Shelly L. Flanagan
Assistant General Operations Manager
United Stationers Inc
L. Liang: What three skills/abilities do you feel are most important for career advancement in today’s rapidly-changing global environment?
S. Flanagan: Be willing and able to embrace and drive change within the team and the company. I feel this makes you more attractive to the company. Reaching or sustaining success is about continuously improving and not riding on the coat-tails of yesterday’s wins. Have the ability to build relationships within all levels and types, and truly believe that everyone is important. Relationships and communication go hand in hand; if one is able to build good relationships with others, he/she will be an effective communicator. Communication is imperative in driving a high level of effectiveness. I define it as being honest and two-way, with a very high level of listening. I also feel that if you’re a person consistently demonstrating initiative you’ll separate yourself from others. I hate being told what to do; not because I cannot take direction from others, but because I feel I should have taken action before being told to do so. From time to time, people need to be pointed in the right direction, but it shouldn’t be a common practice.
L. Liang: What advice would you give to an individual interested in advancing his/her career to help determine if he/she has a future in his/her present company, or if he/she should change companies?
S. Flanagan: You have to be really honest with yourself. Are you as strong as you really think you are? What are you doing to demonstrate and leverage your strengths? Are you involving others in your development and are you getting a positive response from your company for your efforts, potential, and capabilities? I think answering those questions with utmost honesty will help someone make the determination to stay or go. They can serve as a checkpoint for identifying if you’re doing all that you could, or if you’re just feeling entitled to advancement.
L. Liang: Do you or did you have a mentor? If so, how did you obtain him/her? What was the most important benefit you gained from your mentor?
S. Flanagan: I think I have always had a mentor or two, and highly encourage anyone dedicated to growing to have one. Early in my career with my former employer, one was recommended for me. There’s usually a pretty good reason for the recommendation, but it can be awkward at first, because the relationship between you and your new mentor isn’t built, thus communication lines aren’t established. My current mentor is someone I knew I could learn a lot from the first day we met. I also sensed that he would be open to learning a thing or two from me. He’s very different from myself, and someone I would like to be more like. The most important benefit I’ve gained from my mentor is being more expectant and acceptant of another perspective or perspectives. Rarely in life are things truly right or wrong, yet it’s easy to go there and put things in one of those boxes. I now feel as though I have learned to catch myself when reverting to the right or wrong, and assume more “innocence.”
L. Liang: What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to emerging leaders to assist them in advancing their careers?
S. Flanagan: Set your goals, make your action plans, and work those plans with pure dedication. If you truly want something strongly enough, you’ll do what is needed to achieve it.
Linda A. Liang PhD, is president of Organizational Resources, LLC. She’s an executive coach and leadership development consultant and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org